Former Apple Executives Recall Designing Touchscreen Interface of Original iPhone

As we near the ten-year anniversary of the iPhone later this week, a few stories posted online have delved into the rich history of where the device started, how the original team came up with the idea for the touchscreen smartphone, and what it was like reviewing the device back in 2007.

In a new video shared by The Wall Street Journal today, three former Apple executives -- Scott Forstall, Tony Fadell and Greg Christie -- have taken a look back at the first days of designing the iPhone with Steve Jobs. Apple's former senior vice president of the iPod division, Tony Fadell, recounted a time when Jobs showed him the company's first demo for what would become the iPhone's touch-based operating system.

iphone video 1


Jobs and the rest of the team were seeking a more elegant solution to a smartphone interface than the one they began with, which was an iPod click wheel interface, when Jobs invited Fadell into a demo room.

"Steve goes, "Come over here I need to show you something." So he walked me into the room...and it was basically like a ping pong table sized demo with a projector that was projecting a Mac interface on it. And you could use your whole hand and you could touch different things on it, like it was a big big Mac.

It was literally a ping pong sized multi-touch display. And he goes, "I think this is gonna solve our problem."

Former Apple vice president of iOS, Scott Forstall, recalled a specific time in 2005 when the iPhone team was put on a deadline of two weeks to come up with a better design for the smartphone's user interface. Jobs was not satisfied at the time with early iterations of the iPhone's look, and told Forstall and the team that he'd give the project to another group at the company if they failed to deliver.


Greg Christie, former Apple vice president of human interface, said that the team's design ultimately satisfied Jobs, and led to even more work over the next two years before the iPhone's launch in 2007.

"The first time he saw it he was completely silent, he didn't say a thing. He didn't say anything, he didn't gesture, he didn't ask a question. Then he sat back and he said, "Show it to me again." And so we go through the whole thing again and Steve was pretty much blown away by the whole demonstration. It was great work.

Our reward for doing a great job on that demonstration was to, you know, kill ourselves over the next two and a half years."

In 2006, Forstall froze development across the iPhone's user interface divisions to force the team to focus on one troublesome part of the smartphone's UI: the keyboard. At the time, Forstall said it was difficult to use and that if someone tried to type out an e-mail, they'd just "give up."

Forstall explained that one of the best keyboards pitched by a developer had a few clever advantages over all the others designed by the team. Namely, it could intelligently predict words, so if a user would type "T," the keyboard would make the hit region for "H" larger -- while the actual key remained the same size -- so that common words such as "the" were easier to type.

The full ten-minute video created by The Wall Street Journal, which is called "How The iPhone Was Born: Inside Stories of Missteps and Triumphs," is well worth checking out. Other topics discussed by Forstall, Fadell, and Christie include the creation of the iPhone's visual vocabulary (like pinch to zoom and rubber banding to mark the end of a scrollable page), as well as the company's Fight Club secrecy tactics for "The Purple Project," the code name for the original iPhone's creation.

Top Rated Comments

ThomasJL Avatar
47 months ago
The firing of Scott Forstall really reveals the cluelessness of Tim Cook. Unlike Cook, Forstall had vision. Cook is a typical suit. He's an MBA who does an excellent job at pleasing shareholders, but a major letdown for customers who care about cutting edge innovation.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)
julesme Avatar
47 months ago
THANK YOU to the engineers who have made my life easier and more productive over the last few years. Criticisms aside (and there are many valid criticisms aired daily on this site), I remain in awe of the Apple tech that I use daily (most recently the Watch). Keep up the great work.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
anshuvorty Avatar
47 months ago
Instead of talking about who is the better CEO, shouldn't we be commenting on how lucky we are that only 10 years out, we are able to bear witness to the minds that actually developed this incredible device?

I relish every new interview that comes out, because to me, a tech enthusiast at best, is just constantly amazed at how a core group of engineers and designers and other people were able to come together and create a product that never existed before. The stories they are slowly telling the public is constantly fascinating and enlightening.

The fact that we didn't have social media when the Mac 1st came out illustrates how little there is to know about the development of the Mac (publicly available media that is), and now because of social media, we can more easily find out how the iPhone was created.

What a time to be alive truly.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
blucurv Avatar
47 months ago

The firing of Scott Forstall really reveals the cluelessness of Tim Cook. Unlike Cook, Forstall had vision. Cook is a typical suit. He's an MBA who does an excellent job at pleasing shareholders, but a major letdown for customers who care about cutting edge innovation.

Steve Jobs best achievement when returning to Apple was not the products, but rather, the leadership team. That includes Tim Cook.

Scott Forestall clearly blew it by being unapologetic and too proud during the maps kerfufle.

Though Tim Cook may not be as involved in design as Steve Jobs was, Tim is a genius at globalizing Apple and its products. That and to ensure that his vision carried through his leadership team is why Jobs entrusted Tim Cook With the position of CEO.
[doublepost=1498444840][/doublepost]

It is the responsibility of a CEO to keep people under control. Since Tim Cook was unable to keep Scott Forstall under control yet Steve Jobs was able to, it's proof that Cook is unfit to be CEO.

And yet Steve Jobs disagreed with you.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ThomasJL Avatar
47 months ago

Not if he couldn't keep Forstall under control. Steve Jobs could. Once he was gone Forstall apparently annoyed the rest of the core team to no end. Maybe he'd be OK if he came back now. But he didn't take responsibility for the Maps fiasco.

It is the responsibility of a CEO to keep people under control. Since Tim Cook was unable to keep Scott Forstall under control yet Steve Jobs was able to, it's proof that Cook is unfit to be CEO.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KPOM Avatar
47 months ago

The firing of Scott Forstall really reveals the cluelessness of Tim Cook. Unlike Cook, Forstall had vision. Cook is a typical suit. He's an MBA who does an excellent job at pleasing shareholders, but a major letdown for customers who care about cutting edge innovation.

Not if he couldn't keep Forstall under control. Steve Jobs could. Once he was gone Forstall apparently annoyed the rest of the core team to no end. Maybe he'd be OK if he came back now. But he didn't take responsibility for the Maps fiasco.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

lg wing

LG Considering Exit From Smartphone Business, Halts LCD Production for iPhone

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:38 am PST by
LG is considering exiting the smartphone business entirely amid declining shipments and accrued losses of $4.5 billion over the past five years (via The Korea Herald). LG CEO Kwon Bong-Seok cautioned staff earlier today that the company is re-evaluating its presence in the smartphone industry: Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about...
google maps detailed street level e1611052089473

Google Maps Gains Enhanced Street-Level Detail in Four Major Cities

Tuesday January 19, 2021 2:34 am PST by
Google Maps has quietly been updated to include significantly more detailed street-level information in a handful of key cities around the world. Upon zooming in, Google's maps for Central London, Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York now benefit from shapes and widths that match the scale of roads more accurately. Meanwhile, enhanced graphical representations of sidewalks, crosswalks,...
2019 mac pro side and front

Tim Cook Gifted Donald Trump 'First' 2019 Mac Pro

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:45 pm PST by
Apple CEO Tim Cook gifted former United States President Donald Trump with the first 2019 Mac Pro that came off of the assembly line in Austin, Texas, according to a financial disclosure report that was released today (via The Verge). "Mac Pro Computer, the first created at the Flex Factory in Austin, Texas," reads the entry, which values the machine at $5,999, the base price for a Mac Pro....
airpods max sim ejector

AirPods Max Headband Removable With Just a SIM Ejector Tool, Hinting at Interchangeable Headbands

Tuesday January 19, 2021 8:25 am PST by
It is possible to remove the headband of AirPods Max with just a standard SIM card ejector tool, hinting at the possibility of interchanging headbands to achieve a different colorway. Image via Prelook In December, MacRumors revealed the large variety of AirPods Max ear cushion color combinations when it became clear that they were magnetically attatched and available for sale separately....
iphone 5s black slate

Images of Unreleased iPhone 5s in Black and Slate Shared Online

Sunday January 17, 2021 9:47 am PST by
Twitter user @DongleBookPro has today shared images of a prototype iPhone 5s in an unreleased Black and Slate color. The iPhone 5s was launched in September 2013. The device featured Touch ID, a 64-bit processor, and a True Tone LED flash for the first time. Other new features included a five-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture, a 15 percent larger camera sensor, Burst Mode, and Slo-Mo...
iphone 12 vs iphone 12 mini

Apple Shifting Some Production From iPhone 12 mini to iPhone 12 Pro to Meet Demand

Wednesday January 20, 2021 8:12 am PST by
Apple has reportedly cut production of the iPhone 12 mini by two million units to create more manufacturing capacity for the iPhone 12 Pro, according to a new Morgan Stanley investment note seen by PED30. Apple is believed to have made the switch for the first quarter of 2021 in an effort to combat continuing lead times for the more popular iPhone 12 Pro. iPhone 12 Pro lead times remain ...
Apple VR Feature

Bloomberg: Apple's First AR/VR Headset 'Pricey, Niche Precursor' to More Ambitious AR Glasses and Could Launch Next Year

Thursday January 21, 2021 3:27 am PST by
Apple's first virtual reality headset will be a "pricey, niche precursor" to a more ambitious augmented reality product, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view...
shot on iphone 12 apple

Apple Highlights Photos Shot by iPhone 12 Users: Portraits, Cityscapes, and More

Tuesday January 19, 2021 6:05 am PST by
Apple today shared a gallery of photos shot by customers using the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, with scenes including cityscapes, landscapes, portraits of people, and more at day and night. Shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by "NKCHU" in China (top) and shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by Rohit Vohra in India (bottom) iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 models have a dual camera ...
Apple and Hyundai feature

Apple Car Production Again Linked to Kia Motor's US Plant in Georgia

Tuesday January 19, 2021 4:19 am PST by
Hyundai intends to transition the company's Apple Car involvement to its Kia brand as part of an internal arrangement that could see production move to the U.S., according to a new report today. On Sunday, Korea IT News reported that Apple and Hyundai are seeking a partnership agreement for the upcoming Apple Car by March, and that the electric vehicles could be made at a Georgia factory...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...